Druidism Guide Page Two: Custom
by Brendan Cathbad Myers


Yes, women can become Druids, and frequently do. The mythologies record that many Druids were women; in fact Celtic women enjoyed more freedom and rights than women in any other culture of that time, including the rights to enter battle, own and inherit property, trace her kinship matrilinially (through her mother’s family line), and choose and divorce her husband. The Irish hero Cu Chullain was trained by a land-owning warrior queen named Scathach, for whom the Scottish island of Skye is named. In the Welsh myths, there are the powerful sorceresses and goddesses like Cerridwen, and Arianrhod who ruled Caer Arianrhod. In Briton, Boudicca was a female chieftain of the Iceni tribe, powerful enough to lead a revolt of united Celtic tribes against the Romans in 61 BCE. Her patron was the goddess Andrasta, a goddess of battle whose totems included the raven and the hare. Mogh Roith, who was one of the greatest Irish Druids, was taught by a female Druid named Banbhuana, the daughter of Deargdhualach. Similarly, Irish women have a heroine in Queen Maeve of Cruachan, who led an army against the province of Ulster, all to establish her equality in her marriage. Queen Maeve employed the services of a Druidess named Fedelm, who had a gift for prophesy and who was asked by Maeve to predict the outcome of the war she was launching against Ulster. Fedelm predicted (correctly, as it turned out) that Maeve would be defeated. Because she did not like this prediction, Maeve ordered Fedelm¹s immediate execution.

Women were also permitted to become Fianna, outlaw-warriors. Fionn MacCumhall, from the Irish Fenian myths, was trained in poetry and magic by a Druidess. A woman named Asa (Irish for “Gentle”) became Fianna and took the name Ni-Asa (“Not Gentle”), which eventually became “Nessa”, at the time she became mother to King Conchobar. Her influence was such that her son kept her name instead of his father’s name, thus: “Conchobar Mac Nessa”, or “Conor, son of Nessa”.

Celtic law identified up to nine different types of marriages, some differentiated on the basis of how much property was brought into the marriage by each partner, and some differentiated by the circumstances of the conception of children. The latter type is apparently designed to protect the rights of the children. Here is a list of nine marriage types from Irish law:

  •  “union of joint property” in which the man and woman contribute the same amount of property.
  •  “union of woman on man’s property”, in which the woman brings little or nothing into the marriage.
  •  “union of man on woman’s property”, in which the man brings little or nothing into the marriage.
  •  a less formal partnership in which the man visits the woman who still lives with her own kin.
  •  a union in which the wife’s kin does not consent to the marriage.
  •  an abduction, in which the wife willingly elopes but her kin do not permit her to go.
  •  a partnership of secrecy,
  •  a one night’s stand or “soldier’s marriage”; apparently this is to protect the rights of children who might issue from a rape, and finally
  •  the marriage of two insane persons.Many of the most powerful gods in Celtic mythology were female. But the gender of deities is not a reliable guide for determining what each deity’s area of responsibility is. There are male earth gods, female sun gods, female animal gods, female war gods, and male & female fertility gods, which is very much in contrast with the standard correspondences of contemporary Western occultism, especially Wicca. There are also female river gods, male smithcraft gods, male & female sovereignty gods, and so on which is similar to conventional occultism. There are other deities who can shapechange into the forms of men, women, and animals. Your humble author thinks that this is because the old Celts did not view gender as the most defining attribute of a deity. With their shape-changing powers, perhaps species is not a definitive attribute either!

    Thus there is no good reason to believe that Druidism was strictly and unilaterally patriarchal in ancient times, and modern Druidism certainly is not patriarchal. A great many women who feel themselves disempowered or damaged by Christianity often find in Druidry a more welcoming and inclusive spiritual home.



For those who want to believe the answer is “yes”, there is plenty of evidence to justify the belief. Literary accounts and archaeological remains are abundant. For those who want to believe the answer is “no”, there are plenty of other ways to interpret the evidence.

The Romans recorded that the Druids sacrificed condemned criminals. Judicial executions were no different elsewhere in Europe at the time. The Romans wrote that such victims were tied into huge man-shaped effigies made of wicker and burned alive. There were also some forms of punishment in Celtic law deemed worse than death, such as banishment from one¹s tribe and permanent exile from society. Some mythologies describe one person’s life being sacrificed so that a terminally ill noble would survive, thus indicating a belief in a cosmic balance of forces.

It is fashionable among some contemporary Druids to claim that Julius Caesar¹s account of the Wicker Man is mere propaganda, designed to stir up support for his war in Gaul. Less easy to dismiss is the image on the inside of the Gundestrup Cauldron, which depicts a man about to stab a bull through the throat. This artefact corroborates Roman and Greek literary accounts of the “Bull Feast” in which animal sacrifice was a necessary part of the ceremony of inaugurating kings. Less easy to dismiss again is Ann Ross¹ account of the “Lindow Man”, the bog body discovered in England, near the border of Wales on 1st August 1984. He had been simultaneously strangled, drowned, and clubbed. The absence of any signs of struggle on the body seems to indicate that he did not resist the sacrifice but rather agreed to it willingly. His last meal included a bit of burned bread (possibly the equivalent of “pulling the short straw”). All of these facts, among others, taken together, provide strong evidence that the Lindow Man was a Druid who agreed to be sacrificed to the gods in an (unsuccessful) attempt to prevent Roman armies from invading Britain.

It is important not to assume that ancient people held the same values that we do today. To the Celts, death was not the frightening, final thing it is to most of us born in the 20th century. (see Belief) It follows that human sacrifice may not have been so repugnant to them. If they killed people for religious or judicial reasons, it would have been very special and powerful ritual, performed only in times of serious need.

However, there is some debate over this. The evidence of the Lindow Man can also be interpreted differently, as shown by historian Ron Hutton. The written records of Druid sacrifices may have been nothing more than anti-Druid propaganda. Julius Caesar had good reason to make the Druids look bad, because, after all, he was trying to conquer them. It would fuel interest in his campaign back home if he could prove that the Celts engaged in such barbaric practices. Yet the Romans would kill people in gladiatorial games, for the entertainment of the people. The Druids, if they did sacrifice people, could claim religious sanction. The archeological record is ambiguous if such sacrifice was judicial or ceremonial. Furthermore there is no evidence of human sacrifice in Ireland’s archeology, to my knowledge, though there is evidence of animal sacrifice there.

Rest assured that modern Druids do not sacrifice anything at all, except so far as donated time and labour, offerings of wine, mead, agricultural produce, and so on, could be called ‘sacrifices’. The author is fond of offering an occasional pint of Guinness down his own throat from time to time!


Since the beginning of the modern revival of Druidism, which was in the early eighteenth century, there have been many ideas on Druidism that owe more to imagination than to history. Here are some of the most common:

A book called “The Barddas” was circulated in the early revival of modern Druidry, and was alleged to contain Welsh Bardic and Druidic knowledge. It is now know that this book is known to be almost entirely forged by its author, Iolo Morganwyg. It claims as a source a more ancient text called the “Book of Pheryllt”, which is also a fictional work. Reading it makes good poetry, but very poor history. Distinguishing the two is important, but almost never easy.

It was popular during the Theosophical revival of Druidry (18th to 19th century Britain) to believe that Druids were monotheists, or even some kind of pre-Christian Christians. However, this has no historical sanction, for there were many large and complicated pantheons of Deities, only some of whom were common to all the Celtic nations. Many of Druidism’s early revivers were strongly influenced by Freemasonry and other similar fraternal orders, and attributed to Druids the worship of the male Judeo-Christian God who they already worshipped. Also, more recently, some have believed that the Druids worshipped the Earth Mother exclusively, but while Earth-mother Goddesses are present in the Celtic pantheons, they are not the only deities. One form of “monotheism” is the worship of one deity as the chief deity over all the rest. We do not know if the Celts thought about their gods this way, although there are deities who are claimed to be the mothers or fathers of some or all of the other gods. The goddess Danu is one such progenitor-deity. Certainly, various tribes would have put their own tribal deity above the deities of other tribes. Related to this, it was sometimes believed that Druids were celibate. But we know this is false: many mythologies depict Druids who are married and who have children.

Some authors have claimed that the Druids came from Atlantis, or else inherited the wisdom of the Atlanteans. There are many Celtic myths of magical islands in the Atlantic ocean, but Atlantis was not one of them. The earliest documented evidence on Atlantis comes from Plato, who was a Greek and not a Celt, and was probably writing an allegory related to his philosophical and political ideas, and not a history. He wrote that the chief god of Atlantis was Poseidon, a Greek (not Celtic) God.

One popular book on Druidry claimed that pumpkin blossoms were a holy Druidic tree. However, pumpkins are, for one thing, not trees, and secondly, not native to Europe. The ancient Druids could not have been aware of their existence. The Hallowe¹en Jack-o-Lantern (a carved pumpkin containing a candle) sometimes claimed to be a Celtic practice, is a tradition that dates from Mediaeval times. The original Jack-o-Lantern would have been a turnip with a candle, but that is not a tree either. It was used to ward off the spirits of the dead, but as we have seen, the Celts did not have a fear of death, and indeed would not have regarded the souls of the dead with fear.

Some people believe that “Samhain” was a Celtic God of the dead. In fact Samhain is the name of a festival, although the festival is associated with the dead. In the Mediaeval times the fear of the dead, and of the old religion, was taught to the populace in order to integrate Christianity more completely. Indeed, most of the things we typically associate with Halloween (vampires, devils, etc.) come from this period and not the Celtic period.

Some books written for the popular market (usually the same ones that talk about pumpkin blossoms and Atlantis) describe a magic spell or phrase called the “Charm of Making”, which will supposedly bring into being any wish the speaker has in mind if it is repeated often enough with the right frame of mind. The phrase was invented by the Irish professor of folklore, Pronsias Mac Cana. The British film maker Ralph Boorman consulted Mac Cana, looking for an authentic-sounding magic phrase to use in his film, Excaliber. The phrase that appears in the film is an attempt at Old Irish, which in the film sounds like this:

Anál nathrakh, úrth vás bethud, dokhjél djenvé.

If this were rendered into Old Irish properly, it would read:

Anál nathrach, orth bháis¹s bethad, dochél dénmha.

Which in modern Irish is:

Anáil na nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.

And in English:

Serpent¹s breath, charm of life and death, thy omen of making.

It can be proven that this magic phrase is no older than the film. However it may have some interesting philosophical significance nonetheless. For instance, it accords very well with some of the ideas that have been a part of British Druidry at least as long as the current revival: in The Book of Druidry, for instance, Ross Nichols describes the energy-lines of the world as the body of a dragon (another kind of serpent). Boorman places this idea right in the film, in the lecture Merlin gives to the young Arthur on the qualities of the Dragon:

“A beast of such power, that if you were to see it whole and all complete in a single glance it would burn you to cinders.

Where is it? asks Arthur.

It is everywhere. It is everything. Its scales glisten in the bark of trees. Its roar is heard in the wind. And its forked tongue strikes light lightning.”

If you like, although this is not a specifically Druidic idea, you can also assume that the serpent of the Charm of Making refers to the serpent Kundalini, a Hindu esoteric concept. This serpent lives at the bottom of the spinal cord and uncoils itself as each chakra is awakened in proper sequence.

Finally, the Celtic calendar is believed by some Druids to be thirteen months long, with each month corresponding to one of the lines in the poem “Song of Amergin”, and with one of the trees in the Ogham alphabet. Overlooking for the moment that there are more than 13 lines in the poem and more than 13 trees in the Ogham, the earliest reference to the 13-Month Year that your humble author could find is in the 1961 edition of Robert Graves’ book on Celtic poetry called “The White Goddess”, where Graves apparently invented it himself. His calendar begins at Midwinter, whereas all mythologies indicate that the Celtic New Year began at Samhain. In fact a Celtic calendar does exist: it is called the “Coligny Calendar”, and it is does not show thirteen months.



Druidism probably did not have one universal symbol to represent itself, since it was differentiated between seven different Celtic nations, and divided further into many tribes within these nations. Some of the most commonly used symbols are:

  • The Triskele: a rounded spiral with three arms radiating from a central point, turning counter-clockwise. It stands for any one of hundreds of Triads in Celtic literature, but typically is understood as standing for the land, sea, and sky, which composed the foundation of the Celtic cosmology.
  • The Spiral: Neo-lithic monuments typically have spiral patterns carved into the stones. Being pre-celtic, we have no clear idea what the Spiral meant to the people who carved them, although it is reasonable to believe they stood for the cycles of seasons, of day and night, and of life and death. If one stands facing south, the sun appears to trace a clockwise spiral (deosil) as it rises in the east and sets in the west; also, the stars turn in a counter-clockwise (tuathail) as they rotate around Polaris, the pole star. It is possible that spirals carved on to pre-celtic monuments such as Newgrange represent these astronomical movements.
  • The Awen: Three upright bars, with the tops of the outer two bars leaning toward the top of the center bar. Its first appearance in Druidism appears to be in the Bardass, but its use by modern Druids is widespread. Sometimes the Awen is draw with three stars above it, and the whole enclosed in three circles. The word “Awen” is Welsh for “inspiration”.
  • The Circle: As with many indo-european sun symbols, the Circle is the simple geometric shape we all know and love. It makes up the pagan part of the Celtic Cross. Circles are also the shape that many megalithic monuments are constructed in, which is why we call them “stone circles” and “round barrows”. The circle is a natural shape for religious symbols across the world, for it is the shape of the sun, the moon, the horizon, the bird’s nest, and the human eye.
  •  The Celtic Cross: A Christian Cross with a circle surrounding the middle point where the vertical and horizontal lines of the Cross intersect. It is the essential symbol of Celtic Christianity, and is commonly used as monuments, grave markers, and landmarks indicating holy sites. The largest Celtic Crosses are carved from stone blocks and stand at monastaries, such as at Iona and Aberlemno. (see Christianity)
  • The Druid Sigil: A circle intersected by two vertical lines. In Stuart Piggot’s book “The Druids”, there is a photo of a Romano-British building, possibly a temple, located at Black Holmes, Thistleton, Leicestershire (England) in which this symbol forms the foundation; other than that, this author knows of no ancient origin for this symbol. The Henge of Keltria, a large Druid organisation in the United States, uses this symbol for itself.
  • The God with the Horns: An image of a male God with horns on his head, usually stag antlers but sometimes small bull horns. Though this symbol probably represents the God in the image and not Druidism as a whole, it is used quite commonly by modern pagans. The stag antlers represent tree branches, and thus stand for fertility; the bull horns stand for power– in a culture where the measure of one’s economic affluence was the size of one’s cattle herds, bull horns clearly symbolises power. Goat horns were not used, nor introduced into Horned God images until the Christian period, and at this time the probably stood for subservience, domesticity, and also sin & evil (hence “Scapegoat”).
  • The Crescent Moon: A symbol probably introduced into Druidism by the Romantics, it stands for the divine Feminine principle of fertility, corresponding by opposition to the God with the Horns.
  • The Tree: A primary symbol of Druidism, however, each species of tree known to the Druids had a meaning of its own. There probably was no one symbolic meaning applied to all trees. Trees are important because they are bridges between the realms of Land and Sky,they communicate Water between these realms; the Irish God Bile is said to make this possible. The Realms of Land, Sea and Sky unite within a tree, as also at a seashore for example; great power could manifest there, and such places were best for poetic composition or spellcasting.
  • The Head: Heads definitely had mystical significance. To the Celts, it was the seat of the soul. Mythologies report many heroes beheading their enemies to ensure they stay dead (not an unreasonable precaution in this time period) and numerous excavations of Celtic buildings have niche holes carved to hold human heads.
  • Long White Beards: Romantic period depictions of Druids in art and in caricature typically showed them with long white beards, long white hair, and long white robes. Your author thinks they look ridiculous.


Ancient Celtic cosmology does not use nor require elabourate correspondences of numbers, directions, elements, colours, and the like as is found in Western occultism. Some forms of modern Druidism do make use of some such correspondences, as well as others that are clearly not Celtic in origin, such as the four Heavenly Archangels (a idea from Cabbala and the Western magical tradition). Among the few magical numbers the ancient Druids did use, Three was usually more significant, for Celtic cosmology tended to organise the world in triads, and not even numbers or mutually-opposite dualities. It is three Goddesses whom the first mortal settlers of Ireland encounter, three Realms of land, sea, and sky that comprise the mortal world, three spirals that make the arms of the triskele.

The Druid’s elements may have been eight or nine in number, of environmental rather than abstract nature, such as clouds, stars, oceans, and so forth. The Four Element cosmology comes from certain pre-Socratic philosophers in ancient Greece, including Pythagoras, (father of western occult numerology, among other things) and Anaxagoras. Adventurous Greeks and Romans may have compared this thought with the Celtic metaphysics they encountered. It is known, however, that Pythagoras was aware of Druidic thought, and may have travelled to the Celtic nations. Rather than four elements the Druids may have used three Realms, being the Land, the Sea, and the Sky, for it is on these Realms that the ancient Celts used to make oaths.

Celtic mysticism also includes at least one case of elemental dualism: fire and water. These are the opposing forces out of which are born the three realms, and all life. But as both fire and water have constructive and destructive qualities, it would be wrong to say that the fire and water represent good and evil, male or female, or some other pair of human qualities. They simply are two different kinds of divine force.

There is a strong case to be made that the Druids made use of four directions. The Well of Healing constructed by the Irish god Diancecht, to aid the gods in their battle against the Fomorians, required four operators (himself and his three children) and it is reasonable to presume that they stood in the four cardinal directions of north, east, south, and west, with the well in the middle. Ireland itself is divided into four territories, called provinces: Ulster in the north, Lenster in the east, Munster in the south, and Connaught in the west. At some point there was also a fifth province in the centre, called Meath, and it is in this province that the hill of Tara, seat of the high kings, was located. Many European ritual sanctuaries, such as Gournay-sur-Aronde in northern France (ancient Gaul), are constructed with solar and astronomical alignments that correspond to the same four cardinal directions, anchored by votive offering pits in the centre. So it would seem that the ritual “centre” “middle” or “between” place is central to old Druid magic, no matter what other number symbolism is being employed.



  •  Curved blade; sickle or scyth Pliny, a Roman historian, recorded a Druid ritual in which mistletoe was cut from an oak tree by a Druid in white robes, using a gold sickle. The mistletoe was to be caught in wicker baskets and not allowed to touch the ground. One must not assume (as apparently Pliny did) that all Druid rituals involve the use of mistletoe, scythes, and white robes; and what is more, gold is too soft a metal to be used as a cutting tool. In modern Druidism the curved blade has entered common use as a cutting implement, for harvesting particular plants and herbs at particular times of the year. Its cutting action in ritual is not so much one of taking down, but of releasing and freeing, as in “to cut free”; the energy freed by the cut plant is sent on to the Gods or blessed upon the assembly. Its shape is also reminiscent of the crescent moon.
  •  Druid Rod Some legends show Druids using wands, staves, and rods to direct their energy when working magic, usually when cursing or shape changing. It was made from hazel and had to touch the thing that it was directed at.
  •  Bell Branch This was traditionally a silver tree branch with gold bells attached to it. The sound of the bells is pleasing to the Gods and attracts their attention, while at the same time it is offensive to the ears of malevolent spirits who are thereby driven away. Many stories of heroic adventures begin with a goddess inviting the hero into her Otherworldly realm by giving him a branch of silver with bells, apple blossoms, or fruit growing on it. It is no wonder that the faerie host have silver bells on the harnesses of their horses! Modern Druids use the Bell Branch to make calls to spirits and deities, and to purify a person on a spiritual level, to announce the beginning and the ending of a ceremony.
  •  Crane Bag The only mythological reference to this ritual object that this author knows of is the Crane bag that belonged to Cumhall, father of Fionn Mac Cumhall, which Fionn had to recover when it was stolen. It contained many treasures from such deities as Manannan and Giobhniu, and would be full at high tide and empty at low tide. Its function appears to be similar to that filled by the medicine bundle of native north americans. The poet W.B.Yeats mentions a “bag of dreams” in his poem “Fergus and the Druid”.
  • Cauldron Two prominent Celtic deities have magical cauldrons, the Irish Dagda and the Welsh Cerridwen, both of these cauldrons posess the property of granting wisdom to any who drink from it. Archaeologists have uncovered several cauldrons and buckets that may have had ritual uses; this conclusion is based on how they are decorated. Modern Druids use cauldrons to make or distribute offerings.
  • Druid Egg The Druid’s Egg was described mythologically as a small object formed from the dried spittle of serpents, and possessing magical healing qualities. Pliny (a Roman historian) said he was shown one of these by a Druid from Gaul, who told him it was called an “anguinum”. Existence of eggs in Druidic mysticism causes some scholars (and new-age fiction authors) to believe that the Druid’s creation-myth was the same as the Sumerian creation story, in which the world was hatched from a divine primordial egg. It is not a widespread tool in modern Druidism, although it is used by some as a ritual implement for “grounding”, or, drawing unhealthy energy from a patient into the egg where it is supposed to be incubated and transformed (“hatched”) into positive energy.
  •  Animal and plant remains There is no doubt that ancient Druids used animal and plant remains for decorative, medicinal, and religious purposes. One ritual called the Tarb Feis requires the Druid to sleep under the skin of a freshly killed bull, so that the spirit of the bull can send prophetic dreams to the sleeper. Some Druids used colourful bird feathers in their cloaks to denote their rank. On continental europe, Druids used mistletoe for its magical healing quality (ironic since mistletoe is poisonous!). The use of sacred plants in old european paganism was so strong that the Catholic Church forbad the presence of mistletoe and holly in its churches.
  • Musical instruments Musical instruments are, of course, constructed entirely from animal and plant remains. The myths make frequent reference to harps in particular, and the celts may also have used drums, but with reference to old Celtic religion, these tools are in the domain of the Bard rather than the Druid. But just like the Bards themselves, musical instruments were certainly a part of public Druid ceremonies.
  • Stones A ring of stones in the ground was the most probable “temple”, or place where religious ceremonies took place. Many stone circles are named for Druids, such as Drombeg Circle in West Cork, Ireland, which is also known as the Druid’s Altar. It is difficult to speculate if the ancient Druids attributed particular qualities to particular “species” or rock or crystal, but many modern Druids employ the correspondances of modern occultism and witchcraft to good ends. Stones could channel, store, and direct earth-energy, and thus were used for markers, set in circles, and libations were poured over them in sacrifice.

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